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At-A-Glance

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Length: c. 14 minutes

About this Piece

Max Reger (1873-1916) meticulously edited the final score of his fin-de-siècle Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H, Op. 46, so that chromaticism, rhythm, dynamics, tempos, and organ registrations take the music to almost fetish extremes. Purposefully assigning the first note of the Bach motive as the tonic, an unchanging five-flat key signature suggests a chromatic B-flat minor in the Fantasy, with the fugue using the unchanging two-flat signature of B-flat major.

The Fantasy often resembles a busy toccata, with relentless and easily identifiable iterations of B-A-C-H. At times, the sonic clouds of chaos part revealing a bit of sunny melody, only to darken again until a final cadence in B-flat major.

In direct contrast, the Fugue proceeds in almost medieval simplicity, never indulging in rhythmic complexity. This conservative austerity does not extend to the extreme dynamics, however. Even more notably, an almost imperceptible acceleration of tempo takes the fugue from majestic opening to a frenetic close: a highly experimental and imaginative device that defies any tradition in Bach’s fugues.

-Gregg Wager is a composer and critic. He is author of Symbolism as a Compositional Method in the Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen. He has a PhD in musicology from the Free University Berlin and a JD from McGeorge School of Law.